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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Record-setting rainfall inundates Seoul, killing at least 9

A bridge submerged by rainwater near the Han River in Seoul on Tuesday.

By Choe Sang-Hun

Some of the heaviest rainfall in decades struck the Seoul area overnight, flooding homes, streets and subway stations, and killing at least nine people, South Korean officials said Tuesday.

Three of the dead, two sisters in their 40s and a 13-year-old girl, were found early Tuesday as emergency workers pumped out the water that had flooded their semi-basement home in southern Seoul. Another was a municipal employee, apparently electrocuted while removing a tree that had fallen onto a sidewalk, police said.

In addition to the nine confirmed deaths, officials said six people were missing after floodwaters pulled them into manholes, underground passages or streams.

Nearly 17 inches of rain poured down in southern Seoul between early Monday and early Tuesday, roughly the same amount that falls in a typical summer month, weather officials said. In one district, 5.4 inches fell in a single hour, breaking an 80-year-old Seoul record.

The deluges continued Tuesday afternoon, and more heavy rain was expected Wednesday in the capital area and in provinces east and south of it, the Korea Meteorological Administration said.

The flooding turned Seoul’s Monday evening rush hour into chaos. Some subway stations were closed, and drivers abandoned cars in the upscale Gangnam district as roads became impassable. Homes and other buildings experienced power outages.

Photos on social media showed commuters wading through waist-deep water, drivers stranded on car roofs and rainwater cascading down the steps of subway stations. Some of the images from Tuesday morning, after the floods receded, resembled a disaster movie, with cars strewn across city streets.

Hiking paths on the mountains around Seoul were closed Tuesday, and the government issued alerts warning that landslides were possible. Businesses were urged to adjust their working hours so employees could avoid traffic jams and potential hazards.

South Korea annually reports floods during its monsoon season, which starts in June and ends in early August. It used to suffer heavy human casualties, even accepting humanitarian aid from North Korea in 1984. But in the past decade, it has annually reported a single-digit number of casualties, except in 2011 and 2020.

In 2020, 1 1/2 months of on-and-off rains triggered floods and landslides across the country, killing 48 people and leaving 12 missing. In 2011, more than 70 people were killed, including 17 who lost their lives when mudslides slammed into residential buildings in southern Seoul.

The low-lying southern districts of Seoul have often been vulnerable to floods. The area is heavily developed with tall buildings, which deflect rainwater into streams that cannot release it into the Han River, the area’s main waterway, fast enough.

President Yoon Suk-yeol, whose approval ratings have plummeted since he took office in May, said on Facebook that he had “ordered the related government agencies to evacuate people from dangerous areas to avoid human casualties.”

North Korea has also been hit by heavy rainfall in recent weeks. Several bodies found in South Korea near the countries’ border last month were believed to be those of flood victims, swept downstream from the North, South Korean police said.

In the past, flooding has also brought land mines from the North into the South. Officials warned South Koreans living near the border to exercise caution, saying that the North had released floodwaters from nearby dams.

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